SkinTERM First Training Session

A first landmark in this journey of scientific creation, connection and learning

The first SkinTERM training session, from the 25th to 28th of May, was an intense but gratifying week. This blog aims to bring you – the reader – on this adventure, to share with you what we learned during this week, never forgetting of course, to also share the other Early Stage Researchers’ perspectives. We all agree that this week offered us an amazing opportunity to get acquainted with each other, a way of interactive and dynamic learning, and a sublime introduction into the SkinTERM project. We felt connected and part of a puzzle: each of us is a crucial piece to complete it, but not just the sum of the parts. We are a complex interconnected whole.

“This first training session was the meeting point between science, ethics, personal development, and more, helping us and them to evolve.” – Gizem Coşar (ESR5)

A note from the authors:

 To quote a brilliant theoretical-physicist of all time – Albert Einstein, “Imagination is the highest form of research” – it is with this mindset and driven by a passion to learn and contribute to the field of skin regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, that I embarked on my first training session of the MSCA ITN SkinTERM project as ESR6, placed in Dr. Herbert Schiller’s lab at the Helmholtz Center München, Germany. Hailing from India, growing up I was always intrigued by the complexity of every aspect of all living organisms, every theory hypothesized and proven, every scientific discovery and marveled at the brilliance behind every innovation. Regarding the development of replacement tissues, as early as 1000 BC, Indians – such as the well renowned surgeon Sushruta – performed successful nose transplants; all facets that prompted a keen interest in me in bioartificial therapeutics for burn wounds.

Prerna Karthaka, HMGU, Germany (ESR6)

I remember finishing my first interview for the ESR4 position of the SkinTERM project, back in Portugal, with a quote of Marie Skłodowska-Curie – “It is my earnest desire that some of you should carry on this scientific work and keep for your ambition the determination to make a permanent contribution to science”. The field of biomaterials, tissue engineering, and regenerative medicine have always fascinated me. It is not only how interesting these themes are, but also how projects committed to investigate them contribute to the evolution of science. It is about the dedication of so many scientists and their cumulative achievements. It is about developing new therapies and devices which, one day, may change the life of someone, maybe millions of people. And I will certainly work to give my contribution. These are the main reasons why I have chosen during my master’s in biomedical engineering to develop my master thesis in this area and why I have applied to this PhD program. And it was with this mindset that I, now in the Netherlands, working in the Amsterdam UMC, location VUmc, faced this first training session, since learning is an important step in every science field.

  Madalena Gomes, VUmc, The Netherlands (ESR4)

SkinTERM ESRs Group Picture

As everything in life, there was a beginning and an end, the sessions were led by Dr. Willeke Daamen, SkinTERM Project Coordinator and Associate Professor of Biochemistry, and Danique Hof, SkinTERM Project Manager. Everything in the middle comprises the different training courses (TC) of the program, which we will tell you about throughout this post.

Day 1: TC Personal Development – Prerna Karthaka

Dive deep within yourself and introspect on the various aspects of your personalities, without shying away from your weaknesses or getting lost in your strengths. What do you think you can do to improve yourself?

Our first training course in the morning session was on our Personal Development Plans, facilitated by Annet van de Laak, wherein we introduced ourselves and talked about various areas in our individual personalities we would like to improve. This was majorly influenced by our individual results of the Myers-Briggs and the Carl Jung’s Personality tests, completed as a preparatory assignment for the course, which highlighted our strengths and weaknesses. The ESRs were divided into small groups to get to know each other’s areas for improvement and exchange ideas, which was a good way to break the ice between each other.

“Fearless organization – introducing this idea at the first meeting. Brownie points for this for the SkinTERM project.” J. Haarshaardi (ESR3)

What business planning leads a good invention to commercialization, taking into account – supply and demand, market size and volatility, competition, and impact factor?

The afternoon session consisted of Valorization of our projects, instructed by Dr. Robert Dekker and Leen Limbourg MD, co-founders of Atoms & Art. The main goal of the session was to educate us on the steps involved in research product quality, production, preclinical and clinical development up to commercialization; and stimulate our ideas in the direction of classification and marketability of our individual PhD projects. As an aspiring future bioentrepreneur, I found this session to be scintillating and highly informative.

“A very small change may lead to a new idea. And remember to start from a small innovation, not all innovations can get a Nobel prize.” – Jiazheng Lai (ESR8)

Day 2: TC Data Management and Biomaterials Workshop (Part 1) Prerna Karthaka

What is the theory behind the components of the extracellular matrix that contribute towards skin wound healing and the application of translational biomaterial products in scarless skin regeneration?

The morning session of our second day was focused on the first half of the Biomaterials workshop, where we were taught about the extracellular matrix, skin wound healing, dermal equivalents and applicability of biomaterials – by Dr. Willeke Daamen, Dr. Daniel Behrens from MedSkin Solutions Dr. Suwelack, and Dr. Toin van Kuppevelt, Associate Professor of Biochemistry. Along with the preparatory assignment of reading nine review papers that we were provided beforehand, this workshop helped give us a background in biomaterials and translational products and solidified our knowledge in skin biology.

Extracellular matrix components are our canvas which we will fill with different colours: cells, macrophages, fibroblasts, growth factors, and cytokines.” – Roman Krymchenko (ESR2)

How can we effectively manage and store our research data for future use?

We discussed efficient Research Data Management practices and FAIR (Findable Accessible Interoperable Reusable) principles in the afternoon session, conducted by Mirjam Brullemans-Spansier, Data Steward. This offered us the unique opportunity to learn how to manage, organize and store our research data using the website – DMP Online.

“The earlier you start managing your data, the easier it will be to understand and use it in the future.” – George Vogelaar (ESR7)

Day 3: TC Scientific Integrity and Research Ethics Madalena Gomes

How can we prevail researchers imbued with integrity in a world where it is frequently corrupted?

I was immensely excited for this training course led by a very energetic and enthusiastic Dr. Jos Kole, Assistant Professor of Professional Ethics. Our reflection on Cantor’s Dilemma – a novel authored by Carl Djerassi – a preparatory reading assignment of chapters 7-9 having been set beforehand for context, initiated a discussion on authorship and referee manipulation in scientific papers, issues faced by women in science, and many other issues pertaining to one’s scientific integrity. Moreover, we were assigned the task of interviewing our respective supervisors on their experiences with sloppy science and questionable scientific practices before the course, which opened a discussion among all the ESR candidates on various situations where scientific integrity was not respected.

“Moral conduct plays an important role in science success and, so, for the society.” – Nancy Avila (ESR1)

Where lies the line between right and wrong in research? Is it even a line – perhaps a grey zone dependent on different perspectives?

The afternoon session, guided by Dr. Anke Oerlemans, an Assistant Professor of Medical Ethics, focused primarily on research ethics, particularly our opinions on the same, which are quite diverse showing conflicts of values. After being divided into groups, we were asked to ponder upon several ethical questions such as: “Should the data for Tuberculosis provided by the cruel experiments conducted on prisoners of WWII be used in modern day research?”, “Should informed consent be requested from patients to use tissues surgically removed from their bodies for scientific research?”, “Should animals be used in research?”. Overall, the course was highly interactive, dynamic and intellectually stimulating.

“Sharing and interacting with each other is the key to grow as a researcher and as a person.” – Irene Sala (ESR11)

Day 4: Biomaterials workshop and TC Personal Development (Part 2) Madalena Gomes

A challenge of cooperation and critical thinking – the clock is ticking – what are the main messages?

The morning session brought to us the second part of the Biomaterials workshop, led by Dr. Willeke Daamen, Dr. Claudia Doberenz and Dr. Daniel Behrens from MedSkin Solutions Dr. Suwelack. We were divided into four groups, each provided with a different research paper focused on dermal substitutes and wound healing and instructed to prepare a short presentation on the paper covering – a 1-sentence summary of the paper, production and properties of the biomaterial used, discuss the results and translatability of the technology. It was an exhilarating challenge for us to accomplish our tasks within 3 hours and truly helped us realize our potential to work as a team and our individual contributions to the assignment.

“Work smarter not harder, and communication is key.” – Maaike Fransen (ESR12)

How important is sharing ideas, conquering fears and giving feedback? Why should we give small steps towards our goals?

The afternoon session of the last day comprised the second part of the Personal Development course. We began by sharing the Google Document wherein all the ESRs pitched in by identifying their own shortcomings and contributing to each other’s personal development and learning goals by providing tips and tricks. Then, discussions followed on our opinions on issues such as: asking for help, working together, receiving and giving feedback, dealing with mistakes, and relation with supervisors. This provided us with a good opportunity to get to know each other a little bit better and form a good bond that will help our future collaborative work.

“The metaphor of the stairs with smaller steps really helps me not to feel overwhelmed.” – Weronika Bartosik (ESR10)

A final message:

We hope this blog has given you an idea of ​​what this week was like and made you curious about the project. We all eagerly look forward to the next session where we get to meet again and learn with each other! And, as a final consideration, and remembering the idea of interconnected pieces which build this project: as one of us had said during this week “we are all in the same boat!”. And, in the SkinTERM project, we surely want it to “arrive at a good port”, which in Portuguese means to succeed, for all of us dedicated to it and for all those lives that we hope to impact in a positive way through our research.

“We are all like different parts of the skin: we can ensure its health and survival by personal growth and development, as well as interacting with each other and helping each other.” – Masoume Yousefi (ESR9)